The artist’s role is to raise the consciousness of the people. To make them understand life, the world and themselves more completely. That’s how I see it. Otherwise, I don’t know why you do it. – Amiri Baraka
One month after Malcolm X’s assassination in February 1965, the highly respected writer LeRoi Jones, who would later become known as Amiri Baraka – a man often described as polarizing and controversial – moved from Manhattan’s Lower East Side where he had been living and working as a celebrated poet amongst an integrated crowd of artist and innovators, to Harlem. In Harlem, he intended to create a movement that would produce more politically engaged art that would awaken the Black consciousness and help secure Black liberation.
This movement, known as the Black Arts Movement, quickly spread to cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Oakland. It galvanized a group of young Black artists who would rise up to challenge the power structures in this country, armed with nothing more than a pen, paper, paint, ideas, and enough words to start a revolution.
Often referred to as the spiritual sister of the Black Power Movement, this was art by artists who saw Black people as beautiful, whole, and powerful. These cultural nationalists called for the creation of poetry, books, visual art, and theater that was rooted in Black pride.
They gave us language when we didn’t have any and told the truth when we couldn’t.
“You may write me down in history with your bitter twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt but still like dust I’ll rise.” – Maya Angelou
When our hearts were breaking. They spoke for us.
“I gather up / each sound / you left behind / and stretch them / on our bed. / each night / I breathe you / and become high.” – Sonia Sanchez
Their words are like lamp posts, guiding us back to shore.
“Then I awoke and dug, that if I dreamed natural dreams of being a natural woman doing what a woman does when she’s natural, I would have a revolution.” – Nikki Giovanni
Today’s call will be a celebration of our heroes, Maya, Sonia, Nikki, Gwendolyn, and June. It will be a tribute to Brother Amiri Baraka, for he had the vision and the courage to say the hard things, the real things, the unpopular things and to do it all for the love of his people.
Lace-up. Tune in. You don’t want to miss this.
Join the second edition of GirlTrek’s Black History Bootcamp at blackhistorybootcamp.com to receive specially curated emails with inspiring words, survival tips, speeches + dedicated songs to listen to for each episode. Together we will discover the stories and explore the pivotal moments from some of the most powerful movements in Black history.
Disclaimer: We do not own the rights to the poems and music played during this broadcast. Original content can be found here:
Def Poetry – Amiri Baraka – Why is We Americans:
Maya Angelou – Still I Rise: